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Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera House, review: 'An assured take on Strauss’s teasing amalgam of high-flown tragedy and ribald comedy'


Christoph Loy’s serenely assured take on Strauss’s teasing amalgam of high-flown tragedy and ribald comedy is proving one of the most enduringly enjoyable productions in the Covent Garden repertory; the razzmatazz of the Prologue, with its grand to-and-fro between upstairs and downstairs, gives way to an operatic staging whose elegance perfectly matches the restrained beauty of the score.

This time round Karita Mattila incarnates the Prima Donna/Ariadne, and while she prowls (as she must) through the Prologue more as a presence than a voice, the Romanian mezzo Ruxandra Donose charismatically holds things together as the Composer, with a wonderfully pure melodic line; the way Donose melds her sound with that of Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta - as they realise they are each other’s emotional mirror-image - creates a strangely tender magic. But Mattila goes on to make something marvellous out of Ariadne’s progressive emotional liberation, finding Wagnerian power in her climactic encounter with Roberto Sacca’s sweetly-sung Bacchus.

The other strength of this revival lies in the excellence of the supporting roles. We get a virtuoso ensemble performance by the comedians led by Markus Werba, plus an unusually persuasive Dancing Master (Ed Lyon), a comically petulant Wigmaker (Ashley Riches), and a Lackey with attitude (Jihoon Kim) – this last-named pair both home-grown Royal Opera House talent.